Coronavirus news today: EU regulators agree to increase doses of virus vaccine vials; The Pfizer study suggests that the vaccine works against the variant; Australia reduces number of travelers to stop variant

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The last coronavirus news from Canada and around the world on Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

6h24 Germany’s health ministry said European Union regulators have approved doctors taking up to six doses from each vial of the coronavirus vaccine made by the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency said last month it was considering a request by companies to allow the withdrawal of more than five authorized doses per vial.

The agency confirmed on Friday that its Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use had recommended updating the vaccine product information to clarify that each vial contains 6 doses.

Health Ministry spokesman Hanno Kautz told reporters in Berlin on Friday that the change would take effect immediately, increasing the available doses of the vaccine by 20%.

Many doctors in the EU have already taken six doses of the vaccine from each vial, a practice already authorized in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.

Pharmaceutical companies routinely put more vaccine than necessary in vials to ensure minimum dosage, even in the event of a spill.

6 h Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Friday defended his visit to a shopping center to buy a Christmas present for his wife, despite Swedish authorities repeatedly urging people to stay away from malls to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Lofven, who did not break any laws, was the last Swedish official to oppose advice given to the public by himself and the Swedish Public Health Agency. Earlier this week, an official resigned over reports he had gone on vacation to the Canary Islands over Christmas.

Sweden has not closed its doors or closed businesses, but rather relies on citizens’ sense of civic duty to fight infections.

“I fully understand if people think it’s weird,” Lofven said in an interview with Swedish channel SVT.

He said he was following government advice and had drastically reduced his visits to shops and restaurants. When he left, he said, he made sure he could respect social distancing.

5 h 12 New research suggests Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine may protect against a mutation found in two highly contagious variants of the coronavirus that have broken out in Britain and South Africa.

These variations are a source of global concern. They both share a common mutation called N501Y, a slight alteration in a spot in the spike protein that coats the virus. It is believed that this change is the reason why they can spread so easily.

Most of the vaccines being deployed around the world train the body to recognize and fight this spike protein. Pfizer teamed up with researchers in the medical branch of the University of Texas at Galveston for lab tests to see if the mutation was affecting its vaccine’s ability to do so.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, in a large study of the injections. The antibodies of those vaccinated were able to repel the virus in laboratory dishes, according to the study published Thursday evening on an online site for researchers.

The study is preliminary and has yet to be reviewed by experts, a key milestone for medical research.

5 h 08 Australia is almost halving the number of passengers allowed to arrive by air in a bid to prevent the spread of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain.

A cleaner at a Brisbane quarantine hotel diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday is the first person to be infected with the variant found in the Australian community. Other cases have been detected in travelers in hotel quarantine, where there is little risk of spread in the community.

Brisbane authorities are also locking down the city for three days from Friday.

The Queensland state government said masks would also be mandatory for the first time in Brisbane and the surrounding municipalities of Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and Redlands.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that state leaders agreed that international arrivals at airports in the states of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia would be halved until February 15 . Arrivals in Victoria were already relatively low and will remain unchanged.

5 h 05 Faced with a massive increase in coronavirus cases, California has issued waivers allowing hospitals to temporarily bypass the country’s only strict nurse-to-patient ratios.

Nurses say having to accept more patients pushes them to the brink of burnout and affects patient care.

At least 250 of California’s 400 or so hospitals have been granted a 60-day waiver. They allow intensive care nurses to look after three people instead of two, and emergency room nurses to watch six patients instead of three.

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Nurses in other states have demanded legally prescribed ratios, like those in California, but have so far failed to achieve them.

5 h 02 A city in northern China is offering rewards of 500 yuan ($ 77) to anyone who reports a resident who has not had a recent coronavirus test.

The Nangong government’s offer comes as millions of people in the city and its surrounding province of Hebei are being tested as part of efforts to control China’s most serious COVID-19 outbreak.

Offering money or other rewards for information about political or social mavericks has a long history in China, but the pandemic is giving the practice a new face. Those found to be non-compliant will be forced to undergo testing and a two-week quarantine at their own expense.

China has largely controlled local transmission using measures considered by some to be extreme and highly intrusive, including locking down entire cities and tight electronic monitoring of travel bans to and from certain parts of the country.

4 h 58 Japan started its first day under a coronavirus-related state of emergency on Friday with much of life going on as usual, including morning commuter trains commuting between crowds of people wearing masks in busy stations.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated his demand for restaurants to shorten opening hours and for people to work from home.

“We take this very seriously. By all means, I would like to overcome this difficult situation with the cooperation of the people, ”Suga told reporters.

The emergency lasts until February 7. The statement asks restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m., while drinks will not be served after 7 p.m.

It applies to Tokyo and the three surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa.

Nationwide, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have reached some 260,000, with more than 7,500 new cases reported on Friday.

Friday 4:54 a.m. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday banned Iran from importing American Pfizer-BioNTech and British AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, a reflection of mistrust of the West.

In a televised speech, he said the importation of American and British vaccines was “banned”, referring to the rising death toll from the virus in both countries.

“I really don’t trust them,” Khamenei said of these nations. “Sometimes they want to test” their vaccines on other countries, adding: “I’m not optimistic (for) France” either.

However, Khamenei has agreed to import vaccines from other “safe” places and continues to support Iran’s efforts to produce a vaccine. The county began testing its vaccines on humans in December. The product is expected to hit the local market in the spring.

Iranian extremists have long opposed US-made vaccines. In December, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards totally rejected the use of foreign-made vaccines. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi said the Guard “does not recommend the injection of any foreign vaccine” candidates based on genetic material known as messenger RNA, which contains instructions for cells to make proteins.

Authorities then said that US-based benefactors were planning to deploy tens of thousands of Pfizer-BioNTech coronaviruses in Iran.

Thursday 9:20 p.m .: Senator Vern White, a former Conservative who now sits with the Canadian Senators’ Group, admitted to the CBC that he traveled to Finland to visit his wife’s parents.

And five other senators did not respond to repeated questions from the Canadian Press on whether they have left the country since December 1.

The vast majority – 86 of the current 93 senators – say they have stayed at home, as recommended by public health authorities. Indeed, most said they had not traveled anywhere since the pandemic began to sweep across Canada in March.

Click here to read more on COVID-19 coverage starting Thursday.

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